29 Years Ago Today: Chopper Popper
On 6 February 1991, during the “Shock and Awe” of Desert Storm, Capt. Robert R. Swain, Jr., of the Louisiana-based 706th Tactical Fighter Squadron, in the Air Force Reserve’s 926th Tactical Fighter Group, was zooming around performing “battlefield interdictions” in his OA–10A Thunderbolt II over central Iraqi-occupied Kuwait.
“As I was leaving the target area after dropping six 500-pound bombs and firing my two Maverick missiles at tanks, I noticed two black dots running across the desert,” Swain said in a 1991 interview published in Air Force magazines. “They weren’t putting up any dust, and yet they were moving fast over the ground.”
It turned out those little black dots were Iraqi Bo-105s, little German-made light observation helicopters which could carry a centerline 20mm cannon or a series of rocket pods.
“On the first pass, I tried to shoot an AIM-9 heat-seeking missile, but I couldn’t get it to lock-on [the target],” said Shaw. “So, on the second pass, I fired a long burst of 30 millimeter from the cannon [GAU-8], and the helicopter looked like it had been hit by a bomb. We tried to identify the type of [helicopter] after we were finished, but it was just a bunch of pieces.”
It was the first air-to-air kill in the A-10s history. It would not be the last as another A-10A, flown by Capt. Todd Sheehy of the 10th TFW would splash a Soviet-made Iraqi Mi-8 helicopter with its GAU-8 30mm cannon on 15 February.
Shaw, a USAF Academy alumni (Class of 1979) who had switched to flying A-10s in the reserves after his active duty stint was over, went back to pushing tin as a commercial airline pilot but remained a “weekend warrior” flying not only Warthogs but also C-5s, retiring in 2011 as a full colonel in command of the 439th Airlift Wing, logging over 3,500 hours with the Air Force.
His old unit, the 926th, was deactivated in 2006.
As for Chopper Popper, SN 77-0205, it was retired and placed on display at the Academy on 1 November 1993, with Shaw’s AFRES markings. It remains standing guard at Thunderbird Airmanship Overlook, South Gate.